The Board of Supervisors’ finance committee last night signed off on plans to reestablish a drug court program as soon as January.
The committee recommended spending $372,000 to start the drug court with room in the program for up to 25 participants. That is supplemented by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help cover the program’s startup costs and first four years of operation. It will also mean hiring five new positions spread across the Department of Community Corrections, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services, along with paying some overtime in the office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court.
Those people will work circuit court judges, who have also been supportive of the new program—and instrumental in setting it up. Circuit Court Judges Douglas L. Fleming Jr. and Stephen Sincavage were part of the Drug Court Advisory Committee county supervisors established in February to look into launching the program. They also told supervisors their bench can support up to 25 people in the program.
The county ran a drug court from 2004 to 2012, but the program was dismantled after supervisors decided they weren’t getting their money’s worth, even as even those voting to close the program supported it in concept.
“I was more hoping that we could fix it without ending it,” said finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), who was among the minority who voted to keep the previous program open. “We’ve had a long gap without having it, I think we could have used it over the last several years, but nevertheless I’m glad that we’ve taken this step.”
In that drug court, some Loudoun drug offenders got a chance to avoid jail time after violating probation by going instead to an intensive outpatient treatment program. Offenders would be under intensive supervision and mandatory treatment, and if they fell off the wagon, they could wind up back in jail.
But the program at that time could handle few participants, and supervisors decided too much was spent per participant, even though some supported it in concept.
Supervisors and other county leaders discussed reestablishing a drug court in 2016, but those conversations were cut short when in 2017 the General Assembly stripped funding for a judgeship from Loudoun’s already-overtaxed Circuit Court. Drug court can be very time-intensive for judges. But with the decision in May to restore funding to every judgeship in the state, the conversations around a drug court saw renewed life.
The Drug Court Advisory Committee established in February includes members from a number of legal, community services and law enforcement agencies, and has guided that work. It also recommended some changes in the qualifications for taking part in the new drug court over the old one, slightly relaxing some requirements. For example, previously, defendants could only enter the program after being convicted of a non-violent felony drug offense, put on supervised probation, and violating that probation. In the new program, they can also be admitted through their initial pleas and sentencing agreements.
Supervisors have previously said they hope the relaxed requirements will redirect more people into the program instead of to jail.
“One, it saves money, but two, it keeps families together and it keeps people in the community, and you want to have all those things,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), whose professional career has been in corrections and substance abuse.
The full board is expected to take up the drug court question at its Jan. 2 meeting. Because the drug court is taken up as a mid-fiscal-year budget adjustment, if supervisors approve the program, staff members can then begin assembling the program immediately, rather than waiting for the new fiscal year in July.
“This is a tacit recognition that substance abuse is not a character flaw,” Randall said. “It is a clinical condition, and we should treat it like a clinical condition, and this gets us closer to doing that.”